StudyAbroad.com's own, Kim Lessig, shares what she loved about studying in London
Working for StudyAbroad.com for the past ten years, I’ve had the opportunity to partner with some amazing study abroad providers across the world. But despite that, probably no destination will ever find a warmer place in my heart than London – the city that started it all for me.
My junior year in college I took that first step of faith, or leap perhaps, and left my small-town Pennsylvania alma mater, Grove City College, to live in one of the world’s most fascinating cities. I enrolled directly in a program with King’s College London, studying English literature amidst the streets and settings from which it was born. From The Canterbury Tales to Essay on Man, I immersed myself.
While I’d like to think everyone would adore the city based on literature alone, let me share seven other reasons I loved studying in London:
- Encountering a broader universe of people and opinions. London’s diverse population was my first real encounter outside ‘the bubble’ as people affectionately called my school back home. Hanging out in a friend’s flat (apartment) early in the term, I recall starting a conversation with one of his flatmates and being challenged on my position on US government policy (think fall of 2001). I was in classes with few Americans, some Brits and many international students from Europe and beyond, a trend which has continued growing. The UK as a whole hosted more than 420,000 international students in 2012 and London’s a hub of many of them. [i]
- Re-learning the language you thought you knew. Much has been said about ‘two countries divided by the same language,’ but for me, it pretty much came down to the moment when I spilled coffee in my lap. “Oh no, I’ve stained my pants,” was met by a new friend with a look of shock followed by uproarious laughter. Apparently pants = underwear and I should have gone with ‘trousers’ instead. He reassured me he’d spent the previous semester in Maryland and had an even more embarrassing faux pas when asking his neighbor for a rubber in the middle of class (expecting to receive an eraser).
- Experiencing different approaches. Because I enrolled directly, I had the opportunity to experience the UK education system. Classes combined lectures and smaller group ‘tutoring’ sessions with the professors. There were none of the accustomed tests or assignments; rather the entire grade was riding on a final paper. I also gained new insights from many of the ‘freshers’ (freshman) I met at my dorm who would explain to me how they all had to take A-levels to qualify for their courses of study, which are subject focused from the start, allowing them to finish a degree in three years rather than four.
- Going to the theatre. Whether you’re looking for the most popular musicals or an edgy new drama, London’s theatre scene is amazing. Getting off class early one afternoon, a friend and I were able to pick up cheap, last minute tickets to Les Misérables at the very front of the theatre. I could literally see the spit as Jean Valjean laments his shame at the start of the production, and I was in heaven.
- Living in London. This may seem like defining a word using the word, but I can’t say enough about the city itself. Given the attention span of the average reader online, I’m not going to try to fit a tour guide into one paragraph. As a book addict, my favorite thing to do on a Saturday was wander in and out of the bookstores littering Charing Cross Road. With friends, I’d sit at a local pub half the night or hop on the Tube (subway) and find a salsa club. My school was within a short walk of Covent Garden, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and so many more iconic and beautiful places. Studying abroad was that perfect gateway that allowed me to experience London’s grand history and its present day reality.
- Leaving London. I quickly found that Europe, and London in particular, have a myriad of options available for the budget traveler. From the extensive train network to the cheap flights, I was able to visit places throughout the UK and Europe. I took a whirlwind bus tour through Europe on my break – Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Italy, Switzerland, France – and my love of international travel blossomed even further.
- Riding the buses. Who doesn’t love a double-decker red bus weaving in and out of winding, narrow streets? If you raised your hand, you may not love London as much as I did. Definitely one of my favorite ways to explore the city was to ride the different bus lines and see where I’d end up. The guide London A-Z (pronounced ‘zed’) is a must when you decide to get off!
My only regret with the semester abroad was that I hadn’t committed to spending the full year there. Regardless of where studying abroad may take you, I hope you will embrace that leap. For me, it was the start of a rich and rewarding journey that has influenced not only my education, but also my career, my worldview and my life.
Kim Lessig is the Director of Graduate and International Products at EducationDyanamics, the parent company of StudyAbroad.com. She studied English literature at King's College London in London, England.